Sunday, October 24, 2010


I had the pleasure of seeing the latest S/ART/Q Invitational exhibit on State Street last weekend. Instead of displaying their own work, the S/ART/Q collective members each invited an artist that inspired him or her. I was very impressed with the uniformly high-level of quality of the artwork on display. After the Jonathan Greene gallery closed a few years ago, the downtown area seemed to have lost its edginess. The S/ART/Q artists have begun to fill the vacuum. They are young, well-recognized local artists who are working to create a new "Sarasota school" of art.

I had two favorites in the exhibit, Paul Matkowky whose thick delivery of paint on each canvas, particularly in his very sensual renderings of plant life, were masterful; and Michael Panarella, who uses oil paint for portraits of women that are so messy and smeared that they appeared like watercolors that had yet to dry. Panarella's work reminds me of Egon Schiele, one of my favorite artists ( Although the "pin up" women Michael depicts are beautiful, his work made me think about women using make-up to create an illusion. His deliberate smearing of rouge and lipstick drew attention to the seamier side of the painted face.

I started to think about a group of high school girls I saw interviewed on a morning news program recently who formed a club called "Redefining Beautiful: One Girl at a Time," which now has 200 members all of whom spend the day bare-faced once a week. The movement has spread to other nearby schools. I admit I thought they had given up make-up altogether, but apparently, they all look forward to the one day when it is sanctioned among their peers not to engage in the morning ritual of donning make-up. The girls who founded the club looked so happy, and their skin was radiant. They all talked about how empowered they felt to have the confidence to look how they wanted to look at school and not to feel the need to succumb to what one of them referred to as the "fashion show" of high school. I remember when I was finally allowed to wear make-up as a young person and how important that was to me at the time. As I have gotten older, make-up has become less significant with each passing year. Perhaps by the time, my daughter (due in two months) is in high school, the girls her age will decide that the freedom they feel from the societal expectation to wear make-up, is so liberating that they won't limit "redefining beautiful" to Tuesdays.

Long after I left the gallery, I kept thinking about women using make-up to achieve a certain pre-conceived notion of beauty. This even gives new meaning to the "lipstick" debate that seemed to dominate the airwaves after Sarah Palin burst onto the scene in 2008. It's entirely likely that Michael did not have this intention when he created his work; but it is thoughtful and provocative, exactly the kind of work we need in downtown Sarasota.

I love that S/ART/Q is displaying such high quality work on a regular basis, and I am grateful that the members have chosen to showcase other talented local artists that inspire them. It's encouraging to have such creative young artists in our midst.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Music as religion

A few weeks ago, I went to a Snatam Kaur concert as part of the local "Caravan of the Beautiful" festival. In addition to enjoying this angel-voiced singer's music, which is ubiquitous in spas and yoga studios, I was touched by a comment made that music will someday be the universal religion. As an American who was raised in a minority religion, the Jewish faith, I have always been keenly aware of my "otherness" in American culture. Now as we watch a resurgence of anti-Muslim sentiments from the "Ground Zero mosque" controversy to the koran-burning fire storm to the recent firing of NPR/Fox News contributor Juan Williams for his apparently out-of-context comments about his fear of Muslims when he boards a plane, it's hard not to wish for a religion of music that will bring people of the world together with a shared love of beautiful and transcendent sound. In celebrating his 70th birthday this month, people throughout the world have come together to celebrate the timeless message of John Lennon, "imagine all the people living life in peace," yet we continue to live in a highly fragmented and fractured society, perhaps now more than ever. Do we lack a shared vocabulary that can help us communicate broadly? Or is that shared vocabulary perhaps only communicated through the arts?

I was struck once again this month by the comments of world-renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp who spoke at the USF Women, Leadership, and Philanthropy luncheon. Before her remarks, students from the USF dance department performed divided by gender. She suggested that the choreographed piece that was exclusively male was about war, and that she would love to see the expression of aggression be diverted through the medium of dance. To me, this resonated with the comments at the Snatam Kaur concert that we are seeking a universal religion as we progress. Are we hungering for a way to express ourselves peacefully through an artistic medium? Might we need the language of the arts to help us dialogue somewhere beyond words? Is the "theater" of war actually a way of expressing ourselves when other forms of communication break down?

The third thing that I think fits into this context is the film, "Social Network," which tells the story of the founder of Facebook. As so many reviewers have pointed out, the poignancy of the film stems from Mark Zuckerberg's own inability to connect with or trust his friends and classmates while simultaneously developing a website that has managed, in a few short years, to bring the world together. At one point in the film, someone mentions that you can "friend" people in war-torn countries that may not even have clean water but who do have Facebook.

Where once children had "pen pals" to learn about and identify with other children around the world, now people of all ages can "friend" anyone and can connect on multiple levels. Among the shared experiences on Facebook, we can learn what forms of artistic expression our friends most enjoy and can share music and dance with a click of a button.

As we head into a potent election cycle and the height of the arts season, might it be worth remembering what we all share as humans? Music and dance transcend culture and religion, and in times like these, that must be a good thing.